Irked by widespread local and international opposition to its decision to reopen elephant trophy hunting Botswana’s government has become increasingly strident and populist in defence of its actions.
In a City Press article published on February 19, Botswana’s minister of environment, natural resources conservation and tourism, Philda Kereng, asked critics: “Should we rather kill people and leave elephants to run Botswana? Their [the critics] silence [about the loss of] human life and livelihoods is deafening, yet they are highly vocal on animal rights,” she added.
The Botswana government argues that trophy hunting elephants will help reduce human-elephant conflict and raise revenue for poor rural communities.
Critics say the hunting will only exacerbate the problem of human-wildlife conflict and will damage the social structure of elephant populations, weakening conservation programmes.
The minister’s statements are provocative and misleading, as she disingenuously attempts to conflate hunting of elephants with the killing of people, whereas no one is remotely suggesting the killing of people to save elephants.
It also does nothing to address the issue of human-elephant conflict but attempts to demean those working to improve the situation without resorting to killing elephants.
She chooses to ignore that fact that those opposed to elephant trophy hunting are just as eager to resolve the issue of human-elephant conflict as is the Botswana government.
Non-governmental organisations and scientists working with elephants in Botswana and other countries regularly meet and work with rural communities to explore solutions that are beneficial to people and elephants.
Elephants do sometimes kill people in rural Africa and they also do destroy crops but addressing these issues is a key component of many conservation programmes which propose many non-lethal alternatives.
“Effective strategic planning that seeks to support the mutual well-being of humans and elephants centres on the co-existence rather than their conflict,” researchers note in a 2019 paper titled “Human-Elephant Conflict: A Review of Current Management Strategies and Current Directs (L Jen Schaffer et al). “….we offer a model to guide future research that supports long-term solutions for sustainable land management decisions and promotes peaceful coexistence of humans and elephants”.
This, and other research, notes that killing of elephants in an attempt to reduce human-elephant conflict often simply shifts the problem elsewhere.
Permits to hunt 60 elephants were auctioned earlier this month and a further 210 permits will be made available before the hunting season commences in April.
So determined were the Botswanan authorities to allow hunters to shoot the animals that they ignored an offer from the EMS Foundation, a South African based non-governmental organisation, to buy the permits “with the express intention that the elephants in these packages are not hunted should our bid be successful” and that any money paid would “be appropriately distributed in a way that benefits conservation.”
This would have meant that local communities still benefited financially.
Botswana’s government ignored the offer, insisting that the licences could only be purchased by those who intended to shoot the animals.
The hunting packages were bought by a few wealthy and well-connected individuals who had run hunting operations in Botswana prior to the moratorium.
The Botswana Weekend Post reported on February 3 that Kitso Mokaila, a former minister of the environment, natural resources conservation and tourism had been involved in contentious negotiations with a hunting outfitter over the granting of some of the hunting licences.
Minister Kereng’s question, “Should we rather kill people and leave elephants to run Botswana?”, also needs to be seen in the light of increasingly bitter comments by some southern African leaders who have accused those opposed to the reopening of the trade in ivory, and elephant trophy hunting, of promoting Western elitist views at the expense of rural Africans.
Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe see trophy hunting as a means of raising money for their increasingly cash-strapped economies and despite their public attacks on “outsiders” opposing their pro-use wildlife policies they are strongly influenced by large international hunting organisations such as the American-based Safari Club International (SCI), the world largest hunting organisation.
SCI is known to fund pro-hunting research in Botswana.
SCI also supports ICG, (the Inclusive Conservation Group – powerful pro-hunting lobbyists), to encourage pro-hunting opinion in Botswana.
The ICG boasts online that over the past year it has “deployed a dual-track communications strategy” and “we know from digital feedback lifting the ban in extremely popular in Botswana”.
“Since January 19 the ICG sponsored social media efforts have reached millions of Botswana citizens,” the ICG states.
“The president of Botswana [Mokgweetsi Masisi] has posted our content to his personal Facebook page. We continue to provide and amplify capability to the people of Botswana to stand up against the global elite.”
Last year the SCI honoured President Masisi with their “legislator of the year” award, further illustrating the close relationship with conservative Western hunting groups.
A press release from the Botswana government published on February 23 stated that “The decision to lift the hunting moratorium was based on a democratic, consultative and nationwide process of affected stakeholders,” and added that “a general consensus from those consulted was that the hunting moratorium should be lifted”.
The press release made no reference to the role of ICG in influencing opinion.
It is also worth noting that according to polling maps published by the government many of the constituencies for which hunting licence have been issued, supposed to assist the citizens of the areas.
Additionally many areas where human-elephant conflict is reportedly most severe, and whose residents are meant to be assisted by the granting of hunting permits, were won by opposition parties.
The elephant trophy hunting issue has caused ripples of discontent throughout the tourism industry, although few are willing to discuss the matter publicly for fear of offending the government.
Dereck Joubert, a prominent figure in the tourism industry, is one of the few to have publicly spoken out against trophy hunting, a stance for which has been condemned by influential politicians and led to warnings that his tourism concessions will be taken away.
The Botswana Tourism Organisation proudly encourages prospective visitors to “experience the stunning beauty ... the astoundingly prolific wildlife of the best kept African secret, Botswana”.
The minister’s reckless remarks, and the government’s decision to allow trophy hunting at the cost of sound elephant management, reveals another secret that tourists and others should know, that of high-level collusion with powerful hunting organisations and an unwillingness to embrace less harmful ways of ensuring that people and elephants can live together in peace.
Mike Cadman is a wildlife author